Admittedly, this leg was a little self-indulgent. Not much can be said about Bali that hasn't been written and overwritten before. The consummate Asian backpacker destination, the islands are a perfect "starter pack" to the nomadic lifestyle, with an entire industry built up around western budget travelers.
For this leg of the journey, the photos can tell a better story than I can. The Indonesian islands are composed of a variety of towns and cities with surprisingly different vibes, attracting in turn a very mixed group of people. This won't be the most compelling journal entry; the easy living in the islands of Bali and Lombok don't provide much of the friction that makes for novel, interesting experiences. Though Indonesia has a tumultuous history - having survived dictators, corruption, and the crash of the tiger markets - these tropical tourist islands were relatively unscathed.
Our first stop in Bali was Canggu, which we chose in order to skip over Kuta and Seminyak entirely (both of which, we had heard before, are the built-up, heavily-touristed Balinese version of Cancun, with overpriced clubs and underaged clubgoers.)
Canggu is a beautiful, mid-sized beach town, now fully saturated by gluten-free and vegan restaurants, surf and yoga classes, and a carousel of bars with one main event each night of the week. It was a great first stop for our trip, where Dan and I spent a week surfing and reading by our hostel's pool. At night, you can surf straight up to the bar at Old Man's or Sandbar and grab a drink coming out of the water (or jump back in for a late night swim at 2am.) I can see from Canggu alone why Sarah, when she finished with Indonesia, was sick and tired of beautiful, stunning sunsets.
The locals in Canggu all adopt the surfer ethos, growing out shaggy hair, spending days out on the waves, and going out at night with the tourists. At our hostel, Dan and I met a good group of friends with whom we traveled to Uluwatu, to rent a villa for the weekend at a per-head cost of $10 per night.
Uluwatu is the surfer's paradise of southeastern Bali. The eponymous Uluwatu beach and Padang Padang both provide great breaks and better lounging. One day, we paddleboarded out past the break to lie down on our boards with an Aussie in our group who led us through a lightweight guided meditation. We spent the days zipping around town on scooters, splitting three between nine friends, to the amusement of the locals who saw us drive by.
Our group was a representative Balinese United Nations: an Egyptian living in Qatar, a Norwegian, a Swede, an Icelander living in Canada, two Brits, three Aussies, a Swiss, and me and Dan.
The villa itself provided a great chance to cook, and cook we did. We probably set a "customer of the year" benchmark with the amount of food we bought from the local supermarket for the weekend, and got free delivery included in return for our purchase.
Uluwatu is also home to the legendary Singlefinn's Sunday sessions, a dance party that starts with a sunset over the Balinese cliffs and carries on late into the night.
From Uluwatu, we headed to Ubud, the visible home of Eat, Pray, Love. This side of Bali, in the interior of the island, was much more laid back compared to the beaches. For better or worse, people seemed generally more inward-focused. Great for self-realization, not as much for conversation. The town is reminiscent of Pai in Thailand, in its small streets and restaurants, its yoga studios, and its chilled vibe.
On our second day there, Dan and I joined an expedition to climb Mt. Batur, one of the volcanoes in Bali just north of Ubud. The hike began with a 2am wakeup to make it to sunrise on the peak, and involved using flashlights for much of the first two hours. When we reached the crater at the top, we saw that the effort had been worth it. Not just for us, but also for the monkeys who swarmed the hikers with their packed lunches at the top, either stealing or begging for food.
Out in the jungles around Ubud, tourists can find water: temples with holy water, rice terraces with small rivers running through them, and Jungle Fish, an infinity pool that spills out into the tropical canopy.
It was here in Ubud, walking down the main road towards the Monkey Forest, that by complete chance I ran into my old friend from work, Justin King, walking the other way with his girlfriend. Serendipitous moments like these lend credence to the cliche of how small the world really is.
Dan and I also got the chance to visit two institutions of interest in Ubud. The first was the Green School, a non-profit, private international school for expats and locals located just outside the main town. The now well-known school, founded by some classmates of my mom's from Marin, definitely retains a 'tropical hippy' vibe on its open campus. The second was Roam's flagship co-living space, the prototype for its series of international work and living spaces for digital nomads. It was impressive to see the facilities - both professional and recreational - available to the remote workers we met at Roam, all of whom seemed to love the space and the lifestyle.
Characteristically, I waited until my last day in Ubud to try the thing I wished I could do the most, a 90 minute slow vinyasa class at the Yoga Barn, one of the more famous yoga studios in the world. I could see why it was so well-known; at other studios, the teachers tend to buy into the spirituality, but here, they make students buy into it as well with their intensity. At the end of the practice, the teacher slowly looked around the room, making quiet eye contact with each participant before standing up.
From Ubud, Dan and I split paths - he to visit Uluwatu and Singlefinn's once more, me to head to the Gili Islands.
The most famous of the three Gili isles (gili is Balinese for 'island'), Gili T is also the most high-energy. The main stretch of the island, located right at its harbor, consists of a forgettable strip of bars and clubs catering to the island's younger party travelers.
There are no cars or scooters on the island - tourists have the option to rent bikes or ride around in the small horse-drawn tuk tuks piloted by the locals. We chose to take the bikes; at the urging of a friend we met on the boat ride in, we avoided the horses, which were obviously maltreated and undernourished by their drivers, often foaming at the mouth from drinking seawater.
On the good advice of my friends Kyle Warren and Alison Keiper, it was easy to findo one of the best features of the island (along with the hidden snorkeling spots in the northeast): the sunset beaches on the west coast. Sitting in bean bags, travelers can watch the sun set directly behind the Mt. Agung volcano back on Bali, with beach rope swings in the water in the foreground.
"Air" in Balinese means water, which we could not get enough of on this sweatier, tinier sister to Gili T. After a few days on the larger island, I retreated to Gili Air, which is known to be more laid-back (the median between Gili T's and Gili Meno's honeymooners.)
There, on the advice of a friend, I stayed at the outdoorsy Begadang Backpackers, a semicircle of small bungalows with mosquito nets that surround a pool and volleyball court in the middle. (There is no frustration like sweating profusely in a casual pickup volleyball game, only to look over at the local playing next to you with not a bead of sweat on him.) I ended up extending my reservation three times, which is apparently a frequent occurrence, as the environment encourages people to really meet and talk, rather than just party, together. I'd end up running into many of these new friends at the next stop in Kuta Lombok, as we moved along the backpack trail.
Some small observations: all over Bali, the floral scent of clove cigarettes, the preference of the locals, follows you everywhere you go. People leave small coins in the ashtrays outside grocery marts because their value is too low to make them worth carrying. With Indonesian money, generally the more colorful it is, the more it's worth, not because of a color scheme, but because small money changes hands so many times that the color fades quickly.
My last stop in Indonesia, where I'd meet up with Dan again, was Kuta Lombok (not to be confused with the Kuta megaclub city in Bali.) In so many places we visit, the people make the destination. Here, a combination of the fantastic friends we met and the unspoiled island made it one of my favorite stops on this long, strange journey.
Lombok is still relatively undiscovered, compared to the popular and overrun Bali. It is more built up than it was only five years ago, but still feels like it trails Bali by ten-odd years in tourist exposure (a timeline which may be accelerated by the newer, cheap flights between the two.) Locals and tourists often mix freely, not only in professional settings such as surf instruction, but also socially (and, frequently, in relationships.)
The small restaurants, cafes, and bars still feel unfinished, and many of them are outdoors, perhaps to hedge against the frequent power outages that sweep through the south of the island. Food can be bought at any local warung for about $1 a meal. And the beaches are perfect for surfing, only a short scooter ride away.
In Lombok, on a run and workout one morning, a local who turned out to be one of the town bartenders came up to me and asked if I could help him work out. I agreed to do a bootcamp with him the next morning, and we met again at a beach soccer field to do 45 minutes of drills.
On the beach by myself one day, waiting for the tide to come in, I met a local family and was invited to dinner at their house by the affable 21-year old son. His mother offered to be my second mom if I needed one, and the son and his sister both revealed their strong desire to one day visit America. It was a chance to notice another small cultural difference, in attitudes towards litter, when the family threw their trash out on the beach and I chased mine down when it blew away, to throw in the trash. I would say they were as equally puzzle as I by our asymmetric responses to the trash.
It was here that I unfortunately had my first scooter mishap, after 5 months of riding motorbikes. I was t-boned by a young 14 year old local with no helmet. Luckily, the kid and the bike were unharmed, but that didn't dissuade some enterprising locals from cajoling $120 out of me for misc medical and 'bike repair' expenses, on the threat that the townspeople could rally and take action against me. It was annoying to pay what I knew was basically protection money, but money is money and it was more important that the kid was unharmed (as was I.)
Our hostel, the Pipes Hostel, featured a skate bowl in the back and a great living room for lounging after a day of surfing. It was home to some of the friendliest people Dan and I have met on this trip - a refreshing combination of interesting, social, not focused solely on partying, and eager to accommodate and make new friends. We've probably met 200 to 500 people on this trip, and the high volume really helps you discern when you've met a good group.
It was hard to leave Pipes and Lombok behind - and we probably wouldn't have if we didn't already have plans (and a fast-approaching deadline to leave before our visas expired.) But with an eye toward Africa, Dan and I reluctantly began to wind down our Asian adventure and split up once more, to reunite a week later in Cape Town.
Nik / 3.15.17